What an unedifying affair the war in the North African desert was, at least until November 1942 and the victory at El Alamein. As the author of this brisk study of one of its more admired practitioners writes:
In no particular order, the following were casualties [i.e. sacked]: Wavell, Cunningham, Auchinleck, Norrie, Ritchie, Lumsden, Gatehouse, Rees, Godwin-Austen, Beresford-Pierse, Dorman-Smith, Corbett, Hobart, O’Creagh, Ramsden and Messervy.
There might well have been a separate desk in the military secretary’s department in London dealing with officers who had taken a fall in what was laconically referred to as the Benghazi Stakes.
And it had all begun so well. In December 1940, 36,000 men of the Western Desert Force under Lieutenant-General Richard O’Connor had counterattacked an Italian army which had advanced into Egypt from Libya and driven them back 500 miles, destroying ten divisions, taking 130,000 prisoners and leaving Mussolini with only the most precarious foothold in North Africa.